Suppose I'm talking to someone directly, and use a pronoun to refer to someone. I would use tu or vōs with an appropriate case based on its role in the sentence: for example, sciō adesse, "I know that you are here", with the accusative.

But what if I'm using a noun (such as a name or a description) along with that pronoun? My instinct is to put it in the same case. But a line from the Roman Missal is making me doubt that:

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti […] et vobis, fratres
I confess to almighty God […] and to you, my brothers

Here, fratrēs is in the vocative, even though vōbīs right next to it is dative.

Is this correct, by the standards of Classical Latin prose? And would it be incorrect to use fratribus instead?

(The quote is from the beginning of the Confiteor.)

  • First of all, a reminder. As Dickey 2002 puts it, "Latin vocatives may be preceded or followed by a word meaning 'my' (mi, mea, meum, meus, mei, or meae) or 'our' noster" (p. 214). Most importantly, in your example, vobis is not used as a form of address but it's the indirect object of confiteor, that is why it's in the dative; vocatives are syntactically independent.
    – Alex B.
    Dec 8, 2018 at 4:13
  • @AlexB. Oh inded; my question isn't why vōbīs is dative but why fratrēs isn't dative along with it.
    – Draconis
    Dec 8, 2018 at 5:09
  • because when it’s used as a form of address, it has to be in the vocative only.
    – Alex B.
    Dec 8, 2018 at 5:37

2 Answers 2


No, forms of address are always in the vocative and are syntactically independent - they are extraclausal (Pinkster 2015: 1224).

However, appositives agree with the head (in case, gender, and number), so they are syntactically dependent.

Naturally, appositives can precede or follow vocative forms of address. Appositives will be in the morphological form determined by the syntax of the clause, whereas forms of address are always in the vocative.

Appositives, in such cases, from the semantic point of view, "can be taken as descriptions ('you are X') rather than the address itself" (Pinkster 2016: 1226).

See the following examples from Pinkster 2015:

Mi Libaneaddress.vocative, ocellus aureus, donum decusque amoris, amabo, faciam quod voles ... (Pl.) - a vocative construction ocelle etc. would be wrong here, because you are addressing Libanus, not the golden eye etc.

... ut... Romae essem teque, mi carissime et suavissime frateraddress.vocative, ad eam diem, ut sperabam, viderem. (Cic.)

see page 1226 in Pinkster 2016 for more examples.


I think both constructions are possible, but do not have the same connotation. Confiteor Deo […] et vobis fratribus would have a meaning like "I confess to God ... and to you (who are my) brothers"; but Confiteor Deo […] et vobis, fratres, "I confess to God ... and to you, O my brothers". In other words, there is a change of focus in the latter, where the speaker momentarily addresses his audience.


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